What’s flying: So much out there to see
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.”
— Ashley Smith
Observers from many locales have noted animals acting in unusual ways. A story in Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-coronavirus-has-changed-animals-landscape-of-fear/, contained a number of anecdotes about radically different behaviors seen this year — mountain goats walking the streets of Wales have been one most frequently mentioned, but also lions resting in national park roadways in South Africa, hyenas on golf courses and penguins in downtown Cape Town, South Africa are a few others. Wildlife often responds quickly to the sights, smells and sounds of humans. With the radically different patterns of people, staying away from some businesses, travelling less and spending so much time closer to home, animals have noticed, and sometimes changed long-held ways of behaving.
More subtle changes can be noticed around the Upper Peninsula. In Marquette, some may just be slow adaptations that have been occurring over time but are noteworthy. In residential areas there is often more activity for people staying close to home, but even the drop in automobile traffic may have effects on animal behavior. At feeders n the East Side, brown thrashers and gray catbirds have become regulars on suet cake feeders. Later in fall, both species usually leave as insect numbers dwindle, but those caught staying late, especially brown thrashers, will turn to suet. But in summer, it is more unusual.
American crows have become a year-round stable in most U.P. towns, adapting well to foraging through lawns and mowed fields for insects and other invertebrates. Some have become amazingly tame though, failing to budge even when people walk right below their perches.
Bald eagles have also been showing some surprising behavior in Marquette. Frequent diners in the downtown area, they have gathered on ice in the Lower Harbor — were seen there last winter, and in the tall oaks along Lake Street and on the cliffs over Mattson Park. Occasionally eating gulls on the breakwalls. one was seen two years ago feeding on a duck on the rocks near the Coast Guard Station in the Lower Harbor. Last Monday an adult was spotted roosting in a large red pine right over the beach at McCarty Cove. It seemed totally unfazed by the human activity below.
Bird song has dropped off considerably this past week with many birds now resorting only to short call notes and rattles. House wrens in Marquette still give their rattlesnake imitations as some finally bring their young to fledgling stage. There is at least one northern cardinal still singing daily in north Marquette. As these young fledge some are showing up at local feeders. Several birders in Marquette have reported young rose-breasted grosbeaks at sunflower feeders, along with house and purple finch young. The latter two have been fledged for several weeks now.
Young hummingbirds are trying to find their places now feeding alongside adults. Luckily there are still plenty of wildflowers in bloom, providing nectar and small insects needed for the protein young birds need. Hummingbirds are also competing with plenty of wasps, also feeding in nectar laden flowers. Wasps are everywhere as late summer reveals them in flowers, on wooden surfaces and buzzing around sunny spots. They are stubborn and will fight off even much larger birds competing for the same food.
Birders out on some local trails, like those Wetmore Pond area and along the Little Garlic River have had the additional delight in finding large and diverse numbers of mushrooms this past week. The rains and warm temperatures have produced large numbers of bright yellow, orange and red waxy caps and brittlegills, plus large clumps of earth tongues and coral mushrooms. While looking for them and fungi growing on wet logs, birders may also happen on pileated woodpeckers chipping wet bark in search of carpenter and other large ant colonies. It is always a surprise to find a pileated low to the ground in a shady part of the forest.
Shorebird continues along the shores. Whitefish Point seems to be leading the way locally in both numbers and diversity with sanderlings, piping and black-bellied plovers and semipalmated sandpipers highlights, but other species are also passing in good numbers. Hundreds of red-necked grebes have been migrating through this week and a small array of hawks, including northern harriers, merlins, northern goshawks and red-tailed hawks. At Harlow Lake a young red-tailed hawk was seen along the road just past the Harlow Creek outlet. It seemed content to perch along the road and look into the woods for possible prey.
Milkweed flowering is almost complete, but large-leaved asters and goldenrods are starting to bloom now adding new color to trails and roadsides. Beebalm — Monarda, and a large array of garden flowers are also providing places to watch bumblebees, hummingbirds and late butterflies.
Small numbers of monarchs have already begin to show up along Lake Michigan in Delta, Schoolcraft and Mackinac counties, readying for the crossing as they head to Mexico for the winter. After several notable congregations built up at Peninsula Point in the Stonington last fall, many got a rare glimpse at masses of resting butterflies in the U.P.
Large groups stage there when rainy weather combines with strong south winds forcing the butterflies to wait for better flying conditions. Last year emails from www.U.P.Birders.net listserve did provide information when the last group formed. With hope, another will be visible this year. So much to notice!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.